The City Council set what many of its members said is the foundation for broader cuts to the Seattle Police Department Monday by passing a package of budget cuts that will include cutting 100 officers and making new investments in community-based organizations.
The package passed 7-1 with District 3’s Councilmember Kshama Sawant opposed, calling it an “austerity budget,” and Councilmember Debora Juarez, a member who has been critical of vast police budget cuts, excused for the day.
“What’s important today is that we haven’t just said ‘No,’” said citywide Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who chairs the budget committee. “What’s important is that we have said we will walk with you, we will walk with you in community to recreate a truly community-led public safety model. What’s important is that we have not just stood in the way or blocked the road.”
“Today I voted against what is euphemistically called the City Council’s ‘Balancing Package’ to the 2020 budget, because the only balancing that is happening is on the backs of working people, especially in Black and Brown communities,” Sawant said in a statement after the vote.
“With my ‘no’ vote today, I affirm our movement’s unchanging demands: Defund SPD by at least 50% and tax big business and the rich, not working people, because we can’t pay and we won’t pay for this crisis – this crisis of the racist and bankrupt system of capitalism,” the Sawant statement concluded. CHS reported here on Sawant’s 50% proposal. No other council members joined her in support of the immediate 50% cut.
Monday’s vote follows a summer of protest in Seattle as Black Lives Matter demonstrators and community groups have for weeks demanded a reduction of at least 50% from SPD’s budget, a call that received support from a majority of the council.
The council documented the cuts and shifted spending plans in a press release following the vote:
Total initial cuts to SPD’s budget during the summer session are a down-payment for future potential reductions to the SPD budget. These reductions equate to nearly $4 million in cuts, which actualized over a year will equate to an estimated $11 million.
- Cut 32 officers from patrol – $533,000
- Reduced specialized units including officers assigned to mounted unit, school resource officers, homeland security, harbor patrol, SWAT team – $250,000
- Removed officers from Navigation Team, ensuring homeless neighbors are not retraumatized by armed patrol officers – $216,000
- Reduced staff budget through recognizing expected attrition – $500,000
- Reduced administrative costs, including salaries, community outreach, public affairs
- Cut $56,000 from training and travel expenses
- Cut recruitment and retention – $800,000
- Transferred victim advocates from SPD to Human Services Department – $377,000 impact
- Removed two sworn officer positions from the 911 Emergency Call Center
- $10 million to scale up community-led public safety organizations.
- $4 million youth-focused safety programs, including Community Passageways,
- $3 million for participatory budgeting for public safety
The cuts promised with Monday’s vote will fall short of the 50% goal. The series of mid-year budget rebalancing measures passed Monday afternoon amount to less than $4 million. This doesn’t come close to the demand of ongoing protests in the city to immediately slash the police budget in half and reinvest that money into the Black community, but represent a cut of about 100 sworn personnel, either through layoffs or expected attrition, with some reductions targeted in certain units, such as harbor patrol, SWAT, and the Navigation Team that sweeps homeless encampments.
“It is unfortunate Council has refused to engage in a collaborative process to work with the Mayor, Chief Best, and community members to develop a budget and policies that respond to community needs while accounting for – not just acknowledging – the significant labor and legal implications involved in transforming the Seattle Police Department,” mayor’s office spokesperson Kelsey Nyland wrote in an email after the vote.
SPD has about 1,400 sworn personnel and the 2020 adopted budget allows for nearly 2,200 full-time employees, overall.
The council cannot require Chief Carmen Best to deploy department employees in a certain way, so the council members are instead looking to limit the funding for police squads that would be spent on salary and request Best reduce their size.
For example, the council voted with the intention of saving over $33,000 this year by decreasing the SWAT team from 29 employees to 27 with layoffs occurring on Nov. 1. The council legislation concedes, however, that “labor issues may ultimately prevent layoffs from occurring on November 1, 2020.”
Best has blasted such lay-offs, saying they would force the department to lose members of its younger, more diverse recent classes of recruits. She criticized the council in an interview with Converge Media Monday morning for staying in its “little echochamber,” saying its actions do not “represent and reflect the feeling and the meaning and the want of the community at large.”
“The council, while they do have a lot of budgetary control and authority, they are not mandated through charter to run the police department, so I think we need to really make sure we have really clear lines of responsibility about who is making those ultimate decisions,” Best said.
The council has urged Best to ask the city’s Public Safety Civil Service Commission to allow her to instead cut personnel who have piled up the most complaints against them. The legality of such a measure has been called into question.
Any layoffs, however, will still be the subject of a protracted bargaining process with police unions in the coming months. Seattle Police Officers Guild President Mike Solan demanded this bargaining in a recent letter, saying the union “believes it would violate our collective bargaining agreement as well as the protections that employees are guaranteed of due process, including double jeopardy, and removal for cause.”
One of the more spirited discussions among the council Monday was on the topic of salary cuts for the last few months of 2020 for high-paid command staff. Last week, the budget committee voted 6-3 to cap pay for more than a dozen command staffers, but multiple council members pulled back some of their support for this, saying that Best’s salary should not be deeply reduced given she is responsible for nearly 2,200 employees.
“She has faced race and gender discrimination throughout her career and our action, again, would pay her at a lower level than almost all other department directors,” Councilmember Lisa Herbold said, adding that she felt she made an “error” in her original vote last week.
“I don’t want this council to compound that past reality of her struggle throughout her career by allocating wages in a way that results in a massive cut for a Black woman in a non-traditional sector.”
The council voted to retain most of the salary caps, but reduced the one for Best. The median salary for SPD employees, The Seattle Times reports, is over $150,000, with 374 making over $200,000 and 77 at least $250,000. One patrol officer grossed $414,543 last year, with more than half of that in overtime pay.
On top of layoffs, the council also set aside $17 million for community-based organizations to fund both research for next year’s budget and to scale up public safety programs. King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle, two of the leading coalitions calling for the defunding of the police, said last week that these measures are “a step forward, but fall well short of the Community’s demands.”
The council is set to begin its 2021 budget negotiations in about six weeks, a process that some council members have said will get the city closer to the 50% demand from protesters. Council staff have estimated that “aspirational reductions” in 2021 would cut the department’s budget by more than $173 million, or over 40% of this year’s $409 million budget.
The specific cuts outlined in the 2020 rebalancing, which also includes cuts to the department’s travel budget and eliminate police staffing of the Navigation Team and defunds the unit, carried over to 2020 would amount to an over $20 million decrease in the 2021 budget, according to council staff.
The council also anticipates a series of transfers out of SPD that would lower its budget, including 911 operations, parking enforcement, and the city’s Office of Emergency Management. Much of these measures are also included in the initial plan from Mayor Jenny Durkan that amounts to a $76 million cut to the department’s 2021 funding.
Councilmember Andrew Lewis introduced a proposal last month to fund a new mental health and substance abuse first-responder program within the city’s 911 system.
“As we all know there is much more work to be done regarding improving our public safety, to provide public safety that works for everyone in Seattle, so that when you call 911 you get the right response right away,” Councilmember Dan Strauss said.
And then there are nearly $110 million in other reductions the council is considering for next year, including cutting the department’s overtime budget by at least 25% and money from continued savings from the mayor’s hiring freeze, among other things.
The council has also unanimously passed a resolution expressing an intent to form a “civilian-led Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention” that would take a “holistic approach to public safety.”
A timeline included in the resolution first circulated at the end of last month noted the plan was for legislation to create such a department to be acted upon in fall 2021.
“I recognize that the proposal [we voted] on today isn’t perfect, but it does put us on a pathway towards having additional community engagement, to have conversations about how we can truly capture savings and additional investments that we can allocate towards communities who are negatively impacted by over-policing and criminalization in our city,” Council President Lorena González said. “It’s gonna become harder before it becomes easier.”
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